In the middle of 2017, Avalon Hill and Wizards of the Coast made a giant announcement. They were going to take the hit game Betrayal at House on the Hill and remake it in the D&D universe, setting the game within the region of Faerun. So, much to the joy of more or less every Dungeons and Dragons player ever, Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate was forged.
Of course, Betrayal at House on the Hill has been a pinnacle example of tile exploration games at their finest for the past few years. It introduced a new standard to exploring a board game, with players uncovering rooms that can reveal events, items, or omens as they go along. After each omen is revealed a “haunt roll” takes place and, when failed, the real game begins.
Once a haunt roll is failed then the omen and location it was failed on is looked up. These create a grid of scenarios, with one being triggered, detailing who the traitor is (usually the person who failed the roll). The traitor then takes a manual called the Traitor’s Tome, and the others take the Survivor’s Handbook, and they both read one side of a new scenario without revealing it to the other. Both sides now have victory conditions and it becomes a game of survival and stabbing each other in the back.
With such replayable rules, it is easy to see why Betrayal at House on the Hill has become a staple for gamers looking for something a little bit different. Not all of the haunts are perfect scenarios, but it has always promised a good time for those who play it. It is because of this reason that so many people were excited to hear about the new edition – this time with orcs.
So what is the difference between Betrayal at House on the Hill and Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate?
There are several key differences between the two games, not just the theme (although we will be talking about that) that make it slightly more than just a reskin of an already successful game. Let’s take a look at some of the larger differences:
This is the obvious thing to talk about. The original Betrayal is set in a haunted house and this new one, Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate could not be more different. Where the original game had creepy rooms, based around traditional horror tropes; Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate instead has fantasy based tiles. That being said, the catacombs and the streets tends to still have creepy based squares. Things like Murder Alley and the Executioner’s Block make an appearance. On the other end of the scale, the indoor rooms seem to be lighter and more entertaining – things like a room for making fireworks and wizardly abodes (not under those titles) fill the indoors. These are all visually similar, whilst the outside also has its own feel.
The theme echoes through the events and items, with the event cards being similar to those in Betrayal but with a different twist on them. So far we have only played the game a couple of times, and nothing shockingly new has come out; however, we also haven’t seen even half the cards yet, so that will probably come in due course. Once I’ve played the game a bit more I will be doing a proper review.
There are only two levels in Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate compared to the three of Betrayal at House on the Hill, however, there are still three stacks of cards to draw from. Instead of having the first floor, ground floor, and basement – Baldur’s Gate has the indoors, streets, and undercity (or sewer). How you tell which pile you draw from is determined from the colour of the door on the tile you are leaving. For instance, if you leave through a yellow door then you are going outside. If you go through a red door you are inside. Grey and it is below ground level.
This leads to two very distinctive art styles, one for the outside and the underground, and one for the inside of the Elfsong Tavern (where you start the game) and adjoining rooms. One is lighter than the other, with more of a fantastical feel. The outside and underground (as I have now taken to calling it apparently) is more akin to the style of the original Betrayal.
One of the things we have all agreed on – one of the best additions in Betrayal at Baldur’s – is an evolution in the role of the characters. In the original they all had their quirks, but their main differences were a few variations on the same statistics. With the new version of Betrayal, and the expansion into the D&D universe, the characters have new abilities. What this means is that, rather than just jobs and birthdays, the characters now have special skills, taking on the roles of classes within the D&D Universe. The Ranger, for instance, gets Hunter’s Mark which aids with additional hits in combat. The Cleric has the ability to heal twice during the game, and the Druid can shift into an Animal Shape to gain various bonuses to different statistics. Aside from these, there are other classes such as Wizard, Barbarian, and Monk – each one with two different characters/sides to choose from depending on what it is you want to play.
This, it has to be said, is a welcome change to the symbolic characters of before. Rather than having teenagers, priests, and creepy little girls, there are beings from a fantasy setting. It makes it feel like the game is more of an RPG and less of a board game, which is really neat. This is because characters are no longer just characters, but they are adventurers.
Interestingly, the stats are still the same.
The way haunt rolls work has changed ever so slightly in the new Betrayal at Bauldur’s Gate compared to Betrayal at House on the Hill. Where with the original game you would roll six dice after every omen card and hope for the number of omens there are or more on the dice, this left flaws in how the game progresses. Theoretically, however unlikely, it was possible to trigger the haunt after the very first omen.
Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate combats this by having to roll a six or higher, with the dice pool increasing by one per omen. This makes it physically impossible to trigger the haunt for the first three omens and helps the game develop a bit more.
It seems like something strange to say, but the production quality of the miniatures is better in Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate compared to just Betrayal at House on the Hill. They are far from perfect still, with each paint job being fairly quickly done; however, this time there is a bit more detail than there was before. For instance, the eyes of the characters are now painted. It’s only a small thing, but it does help improve the overall experience.
Other Smaller Differences
It sounds really silly, or it will do when I mention them, but there are a couple of noticable minor differences in the game. The first goes for the attitudes of the rooms. Far more of the rooms are named positive things, and that adds a type of variety that you don’t realise can make a huge difference to the game until you see one come out.
Secondly though – there are stairs going down. Yes, you heard that correctly. Certain rooms actually have stairs. I’m just going to leave that there, but those who know Betrayal know the pain of not being able to move between floors.
So are the changes made to Betrayal at House on the Hill welcome in Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate?
To be completely honest, the changes that have been made to the original Betrayal game may not seem huge, but they do make a significant difference to the way the game is played. For instance, although it still tries to pass itself off as a horror game it really becomes strongly aligned with fantasy instead once the character classes have been introduced. That being said, it doesn’t detract from the game. In fact, quite the opposite.
I am not usually one for recommending reskins of a game, especially if it doesn’t do anything new to spice things up a bit; however, through making a few subtle differences Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate feels like a new game. It feels more like a roleplaying game than the original Betrayal did before. That being said, it is still very recognisably a Betrayal game, and the change is not as radical as games like Pandemic and Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu. This isn’t a complete redesign, but rather a slight nudge in another direction.